French 245A: Philology, Manuscript Studies and Book History Among The Disciplines (1300-2000)

Instructor: Professor Déborah Blocker

This course fulfills the Critical Approaches and Methodology requirement for the DE in REMS. It may also count as an elective.

This seminar ambitions to collectively investigate the place of what we currently call “philological practices” in the development of humanistic studies in the Occidental world from 1300 to our contemporary moment. In the first third of this seminar, we will study the erudition practices of Italian humanists, as they were developed in Florence, Venice and Rome in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries (3 sessions). We will then move on to examining the development of philology in early modern France and in 19th century Germany, focusing more specifically, in the later case, on the hermeneutics of F. Schleiermacher and A. Boeckh (3 sessions). In the remaining part of the seminar (7 sessions), we will consider the place of philology and of its modern day avatars — i.e. Manuscript Studies and Book History — in the epistemological practices of today’s humanities. To do so, we will pragmatically envisage how Philology, Manuscript Studies and Book History are currently mobilized in — and across — a variety of humanistic disciplines (Classics; Cultural, Social and/or Political History; Literary Studies; Continental Philosophy; Art History; Musicology; Library Science and Archival History, etc.), focusing principally, but not exclusively, on how they are used in the field of Early Modern Studies. This seminar will therefore not only introduce students to the history of philological practices. It will also systematically expose them to the various ways in which these practices are currently being put to use in humanistic enquiries. As such, the class aims principally to generate a critical reappraisal of these practices: when, why and how can/should these protocols of enquiry be used, what can they do (and not do) for humanists of all creeds and makings, are there good (and bad?) ways of mobilizing them and, if so, how could we possibly tell the difference, in practical terms? This seminar welcomes interested students from ALL the humanistic disciplines represented on campus — whether or not they are early modernists — while concurrently serving as the “methods and tools” seminar for the DE in REMS for Spring 2018 ( will work collectively to generate a thoroughly interdisciplinary dialogue across humanistic disciplines, as well as across time periods. The seminar will be held in the Bancroft Library and the second half of each seminar will be devoted to the hands-on investigation of manuscripts and rare books currently held in the library’s collections, relating in one way or another to the session’s primary readings. Last but not least, three to four guest speakers from across campus will be invited to come to talk to the seminar about how their humanistic research currently engages with “philological practices”. Students will be asked to write term papers of methodological/epistemological scope engaging specifically — in whatever manner they choose to — with the Bancroft’s vast collections. Some knowledge of French, Italian, German, Arabic, Hebrew and/or Latin or Greek would certainly be most helpful, but no foreign language skills are mandatory to take this class. All foreign language literature assigned will be summarized in English during in-class discussions. For additional information about this seminar prior to the beginning of classes, please feel free to contact the instructor at


Section times and locations in the Schedule of Classes